With more Southland protests planned in response to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck warned again that while lawful protests will be respected, people who break the law or try to stop freeway traffic will be arrested.
Monday night, in response to the decision in Ferguson, a number of folks in Los Angeles participated in lawful protest,” Beck said. “That lawful protest was facilitated for many hours by the Los Angeles Police Department.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows that we absolutely support the First Amendment,” Beck said. “We support people’s right to assemble and to lawfully speak out on issues that are of great concern to them. We will do that again tonight, and today.
“However, we cannot support—and we will not allow—people to use their rights to trample on the rights of others, and that includes such things as vandalism, violence, and in particular an incident that we had last night (of) going up on one of our freeways,” Beck said.
“Freeways are very dangerous places—even in a car— but as a pedestrian, they are extremely dangerous,” Beck said.
Three people were arrested overnight during protests that erupted around Los Angeles in response to the Ferguson announcement. One person was arrested on suspicion of assault on a police officer, one for failure to disperse and one for public intoxication, Beck said.
Beck noted that officers fired some “less lethal” foam rounds to keep people from going onto freeways, and he warned that police were prepared to make arrests of those who try to do the same today.
“We want to facilitate lawful protest,” Beck said. “Please allow us to do that. This is a national discussion; a national debate …Today, we hope for a calmer day.”
The marchers—who gathered to protest a grand jury finding that Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old Black man—stopped northbound and southbound traffic on the Harbor (110) Freeway downtown for approximately 70 minutes Monday night and Tuesday morning, and also blocked lanes on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills for about 10 minutes.
Earlier, a smaller group of protestors tried to block lanes on the Santa Monica (10) Freeway near La Brea Avenue, but were chased away by California Highway Patrol officers.
Sgt. Ed Kinney of the LAPD’s Central Division said one of the protesters was arrested at the scene of the 110 freeway stoppage, and another at a later gathering on East First Street, in front of police headquarters.
A tactical alert, which requires that all officers remain at their posts beyond their shifts, was called early Monday afternoon after it was announced that the Ferguson decision was imminent, Kinney said. The alert was lifted at 3 a.m. today.
One of the marches began at Leimert Park and headed north on Figueroa, swelling to about 300 people before it reached the 110 Freeway. Protesters scaled an embankment and then stood and sat on the northbound lanes of the freeway, with some stopping traffic on the southbound lanes.
Some people were seen standing on the narrow concrete center divider, and a cyclist circled around the northbound lanes.
CHP officer Peter Bishop said the freeway was shut down around 11:20 p.m. Monday, and reopened at 12.30 a.m.
After being given an order to disperse by the CHP, some of the protesters marched west on West Pico Boulevard.
No arrests were made during a brief stoppage of traffic in the 9500 block of Wilshire Boulevard, in front of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel around 10 p.m. Monday, Beverly Hills police Sgt. Brian Balleweg said.
Balleweg estimated about 30 protesters laid down, their actions causing “nothing more than a little inconvenience for some people out there driving.
“It was a very peaceful protest,” Balleweg said.
The remainder of the Leimert Park-110 Freeway protest group moved to police headquarters on West First Street. An officer at the scene estimated 150 of his colleagues, all wearing riot helmets, were there to greet them, and put the number of protesters at around 100. A news videographer at the scene reported seeing a person being handcuffed by officers.
Two other protests were planned for today. One was to involve students and faculty from the Claremont Colleges late this morning. Another was to begin at 3 p.m., arranged by the Youth Justice Coalition and other groups, at the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.
Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, who is the city’s acting mayor while Mayor Eric Garcetti is on an Asian trade mission, said most of the people who gathered in protest Monday night acted peacefully.
“I was very impressed and proud of the way that Angelenos acted last night,” Wesson said. “The police department, I thought, did an unbelievable job as well. The community leaders did a good job.
“My concern still is: let’s keep our eyes open and be aware, and watch out for individuals that really don’t live in our communities, that will come in because their one goal is to create havoc and chaos,” Wesson said.
A. Shuanise Washington, president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Incorporated (CBCF) released the following statement on the grand jury decision:
“Our heartfelt prayers are with Michael Brown’s family as they cope with the pain and frustration of the grand jury’s decision.
“Although our justice system may not always seem fair, violence and riots will not bring peace and balance to our country. CBCF will continue to believe in our judicial process. As a nation, we can move forward from this decision by reexamining law enforcement arrest procedures involving unarmed individuals.
“As the CBCF continues its mission to develop young leaders, educate the public and inform policy, we encourage people to become more civically engaged and collaborate with community groups, faith leaders, and legislators to reevaluate our social, political and moral commitment to building up the next generation.
“Instead of letting this decision divide us, we should ask ourselves how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again. That is the best way to honor a young man whose life was taken too soon.”
The riot Monday evening in Ferguson, and resulting protests coast-to-coast may point to an even larger specter of alleged police abuse of African Americans and persons of color. As Ferguson police officer Wilson was found not liable to stand trial for the August killing of Brown, several cases of alleged and verified police misconduct and/or brutality have rocked the nation since the Brown shooting and have subsequently focused worldwide attention on deadly measures taken by American law enforcement.
On Nov. 22, a Cleveland, Ohio police officer was less than 10 feet away when he fatally shot a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet pistol near a playground. Tamir Rice was confronted by officers responding to a 911 call about a male who appeared to be pulling a gun in and out of his pants. The 911 caller said the gun was “probably fake” and added, “I don’t know if it’s real or not.”
Deputy Chief Edward Tomba told the press on Monday that he didn’t know whether a dispatcher shared that information with the responding officers, one of which was a veteran and the other—the shooter—a rookie. Authorities said the boy was told to raise his hands and was shot when he allegedly pulled the pellet gun from his waistband, although he never pointed it at the officers nor made verbal threats.
The Cleveland case is similar to one last year in Northern California. In that case, prosecutors did not file criminal charges against a Santa Rosa sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez carrying a pellet gun the officer mistook for an assault rifle.
On Nov. 20 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Akai Gurley, 28, was shot and killed by one of two rookie officers patrolling the hallway of a dimly-lit apartment building. In what has been called an “unfortunate tragedy” by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratten, Gurley was at his girlfriend’s apartment at approximately 11:15 p.m. The couple attempted to take the seventh-floor elevator down and after finding that it was out of order, took the stairs. The two officers, meanwhile, were conducting what NYPD officials call a “vertical patrol” and upon entering the dark stairwell on the eighth floor, Officer Peter Liang drew his gun and flashlight as a safety precaution. That’s when Gurley and his girlfriend also entered the stairwell. At that moment, Laing fired one round from the eighth-floor landing, striking Gurley in the chest. The couple ran down the stairs before Gurley collapsed on the fifth floor. He was transported to Brookdale Hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival.
Earlier that evening in Brooklyn, a video taken by a subway passenger captured the moment when an NYPD officer hit 20-year-old Donovan Lawson—an alleged “fare-beater”—in the head with his baton. The force of the blow opened a gash on Lawson’s head and spattered blood onto witnesses and walls at the Myrtle Avenue J, M, Z stop. Police said Lawson had “doubled up” with a friend, going through the turnstile together on a single swipe. A witness said Lawson was sitting on a wooden bench when the officer walked up and “… threw at least three punches.” Applying a blow to the head by a nightstick or “billy club” is reportedly in violation of NYPD policy. At press time, the officer has not been suspended nor placed on modified assignment.
In September, the California Highway Patrol reached a $1.5 million settlement with 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock who on July 1 was walking along the shoulder of the Santa Monica Freeway (10) near La Brea Avenue. The officer, Daniel Andrew, who resigned as part of the settlement, was seen on video walking up behind Pinnock, grabbing her and throwing her to the ground. He then straddled the great-grandmother, who was revealed later to suffer from bipolar syndrome, and began repeatedly punching her in the face and upper body. “I was scared for my life, cause he just wouldn’t stop beating me,” Pinnock said. “I didn’t know when he was going to stop.” The bulk of the settlement establishes a special needs trust for Ms. Pinnock to provide a mechanism for her long-term care.
On Nov. 13, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the Los Angeles Police Department to release an autopsy report on the shooting death of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill man from South Los Angeles who was shot and killed by officers in August. The controversial case has resulted in criticism of the LAPD not only from Garcetti, but also from Los Angeles City Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. (Ninth District) and also from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas (Second District). LAPD officials say that on Aug. 11 during an investigative stop at 65th and Broadway streets, a struggle ensured in which Ford allegedly turned and grabbed one of the officers’ guns. After that, they reportedly fell to the ground and Ford is said to have attempted to pull the officer’s handgun from its holster. The second officer fired his service weapon and the officer wrestling with Ford fired his backup weapon. Eyewitnesses, neighbors and friends of Ford have disputed this account, saying that Ford’s mental state was well known in the neighborhood and that he was “lying down” when he was allegedly shot in the back.
A little more than one week before and blocks away from the Ford shooting, LAPD officers allegedly beat to death Omar Abrego during a traffic stop outside his home. Abrego, an Amtrak employee, was wearing his uniform when he pulled over outside his home on Aug. 2; a preliminary coroners report suggested that Abrego was high on cocaine. Police said he was driving erratically and “attempted to flee.” Agrego “suffered a severe concussion and multiple facial and body contusions” according to the ensuring LAPD report. Abrego’s death is under investigation by the LAPD and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said it is conducting a “comprehensive review.”
On July 17, NYPD officers approached Eric Garner, 43, whom they suspected of illegally selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. Described by acquaintances as a “gentle giant,” Garner had just broken up a fight between two persons when police detained him. “Everytime you see me you want to mess with me,” Garner allegedly told officers. “I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why you touching me? I didn’t sell anything! I was breaking up a fight.” A video recording showed officers surrounding Garner with one patrolman applying a chokehold from behind. The two fell to the ground with Garner’s head slamming against the pavement. He is heard on video repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” A witness said she saw blood flowing from the side of Garner’s mouth. Another witness, Gordon Benson, recalled, “When he was on the ground, they kept holding him by the neck. He just gasped and then stopped moving.” On July 17, the New York City Medical Examiner declared Garner’s death a homicide and that the chokehold applied by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was the cause of death. Like the aforementioned application of a nightstick to a person’s head, the chokehold maneuver is no longer allowed by the NYPD. In the 1970s, a similar prohibition was put into place by the LAPD following a series of “chokehold” deaths of primarily African American persons in South Los Angeles.